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Archive for Sunday, August 10, 2003

Success can be tough to handle

August 10, 2003

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Nothing really prepares you for success.

First person I heard say that was Artie Shaw, the brilliant clarinetist-bandleader of the 1930s and 1940s. He got so fed up with adoration, adulation, manipulation, groupies and such that he left the business far too early. What a waste.

Shaw added that all of us had enough failures that we learned to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again. With most, it's a conditioned reflex. No choice. You can sink your teeth into failures and setbacks and deal with them because you have so much company. So we get well schooled in comebackery. Hit it big overnight and we might go bananas since we've never been there or done that.

Fame, fortune, exaltation by the masses, icon status -- we see contant examples of people in sports, entertainment, business-industry, politics and such. They achieve a derivative of a Holy Grail and wind up compromised, even decimated. They just can't handle it, to borrow from the Jack Nicholson martinet in "A Few Good Men."

There is no certain way to prepare anyone for Mt. Olympus. Thus, many don't stay there too long, often because of their own inadequacies and inability to adapt and cope sensibly.

Right now the names of footballer Maurice Clarett and basketeer Kobe Bryant come to mind. But in the next five minutes you could think of at least a hundred others who've also been ambushed by the too-much, too-soon syndrome.

It's heady wine, indeed, and it takes a tremendously strong, wise and steady soul with a lot of help from good people to deal with it the way the Roger Staubachs, Oprah Winfreys, Bill Bradleys, Jackie Robinsons and Walter Paytons have done -- and to some extent Michael Jordan.

Michael's still a work in progress, though. He got trapped by the same Latin phraseology that tarnishes so many crowns and topples so many throne-sitters: "Penis erectus non conscience est." Boy, can Kobe Bryant relate to that. Consent or not, he went the route. In many eyes, he'll never again be quite the same "hero."

What a sad situation for Clarett, the Ohio State running back who left high school at mid-year so he could do spring practice at OSU and be ready for a boffo freshman season. He helped State bag a national title.

But Clarett's been catered to since he first showed signs of excellence -- the case with so many. He seems to have wound up a spoiled brat. Stalked out of an important test at mid-term, probably because the questions were "too hard." He's been handed one piece of graft after another the way superjocks often are from junior high on up. Like so many of his kind, he's been led to believe he has his own set of laws and can bend them however he chooses.

Now he's pouting in absentia as his eligibility is checked while OSU prepares for the season. Given his choice, Maurice would turn pro. Yet the current "noble" policy of the NFL prohibits that (man, is that a shocker after all the raids by pro basketeers?)

Regardless of your take on the Roy Williams defection from Kansas, to worship firsthand at the altar in the Dean Dome, in his 15 years Roy here, Roy did about as good a job as can be done to prepare various degrees of ego for fame and fortune. As long as Jayhawks such as Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz, Paul Pierce, Nick Collison, Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich were here, they were force-programmed toward academics and good citizenship and advised about the pitfalls of stardom as well as its rewards.

Roy and Co. probably did as good a job as possible of grooming his kids for success. It was a far tougher job with the erratic Gooden than with the others. But Williams went a long way toward beating the Artie Shaw rap.

Roy left Bill Self some huge shoes to fill in that respect. There is every evidence that Self sees the picture and will continue such commendable tutelage and preparation. His kids are lucky.

l The NCAA, with big money in mind and little regard for good doctors experienced in athletic health care, is getting credit for new rules designed to alter how colleges approach preseason football camps.

The plan will help, but it won't come close to matching the advice of medics with great savvy in such matters: Don't start the doggoned season so early! There still will be guys ravaged by the intense heat and humidity of August. Put it off at least two or three weeks until there is some chance of better weather. High schools should do likewise.

Won't happen as long as the schools and the NCAA can make so much money playing 11, 12, even 14 games rather than the 10 of past years.

The new plan says freshmen no longer can practice in the days before the returning players report. Preseason practice now must begin with a five-day "acclimatization" period in which only one practice can be held per day. That practice cannot exceed three hours. And this is a big one, teams no longer can practice twice a day on consecutive days.

That might cut down on heat strokes, convulsions, heart attacks and such. During the 2001-02 academic year, the risk of suffering an injury that forced a footballer to miss an extended period of time was four times higher in the preseason than in the regular grind.

So there's progress; not enough. Why not listen to the doctors and start the drills a lot later?

Money keeps yelling loudly, however. Longer schedules help pay more bills and boost more treasuries. Don't hang by the thumbs until there's a drastic change.

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